WASHINGTON — The Philippines' top diplomat said Thursday it still regards the U.S. as a trusted ally but will not accept lectures on human rights as a condition for receiving American help.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said, "We cannot ... forever be the little brown brothers of America," as he appealed for mutual respect between the allied nations.
Yasay sought to reassure an audience at a Washington think tank about Manila's commitment to positive relations with the United States, its former colonial power.
His address came amid strains in the relationship because of recent remarks by the Southeast Asian nation's new president, Rodrigo Duterte, who has waged a bloody war on the drug trade that has been criticized by the U.S. More than 3,000 suspected drug users and dealers have been killed since he assumed the presidency in June.
Last week, President Barack Obama canceled a formal meeting with Duterte at a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders after Duterte used the phrase "son of a bitch" in warning that he wouldn't accept lectures from Obama on human rights.
Yasay said the Philippine government would never condone unlawful killings. He said the Philippines shared the U.S. goal for full respect of human rights. He said Filipinos had fully understood about the sanctity of human life since before it was a U.S. colony and that was at the core of its struggle for independence.
"You do not go to the Philippines and say, 'I'm going to give you something, I'm going to help you develop and I'm going to help you grow but these are the checklist(s) that you must comply with. We will lecture you on human rights'," he told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Yasay did not comment on testimony Thursday by a former Filipino militiaman before the Philippine Senate that Duterte, when he was still a city mayor, ordered him and other members of a liquidation squad to kill criminals and opponents in gangland-style assaults that left about 1,000 dead.
Yasay also sought to tamp down U.S. concern about statements from Duterte in the past week that suggested an intent to scale back in the U.S.-Philippine security alliance.
He said the Philippines is committed to a defense cooperation agreement signed by the previous government that will give the U.S. access to five Philippine military bases.
And while Duterte has taken steps to repair relations with China, Yasay also said Manila will only discuss their territorial dispute in the South China Sea with Beijing on the basis of a recent international tribunal ruling, supported by Washington. The tribunal found in Manila's favor and invalidated the legal basis of China's expansive claims.
But Yasay confirmed the Philippines does not want to undertake joint patrols with the U.S. beyond its territorial waters in disputed waters near the South China Sea — a step taken by the last government.